Léa Mysius: 'I dreamed of this gift where I could get into someone's head and see through their eyes'

AuthorTara Brady
Published date23 March 2023
Publication titleIrish Times: Web Edition Articles (Dublin, Ireland)
Léa Mysius's second feature, The Five Devils, gets impressively close to conveying the emotional and autobiographical aspects of fragrance

"It was difficult to conceptualise how to film something that's invisible like scent," says the film-maker. "I do, in fact, like working with the senses and something that's very bodily, very physical. And then that kind of opens up a world of smells and how smells then activate memories. When you smell something from childhood, you have images that start to encroach in. But what if there's something a bit more fantastical to it, something more than your subconscious at work?"

The Five Devils' preteen heroine, Vicky (played by the impressive newcomer Sally Dramé), possesses a sense of smell that allows her to snuffle her mother in the middle of a forest while blindfolded. The youngster also concocts potions that correspond to her nearest and dearest. So when her estranged aunt Julia arrives with new and potent odours, Vicky is transported back in time to witness the crazed melodrama that came between her swimming-instructor mother (played by Adèle Exarchopoulos), her firefighter father (Moustapha Mbengue) and the troubled aunt (Swala Emati).

Strap in for aquatic exercises, a horrible fire, an LGBTQ romance and a full-blooded karaoke rendition of Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart.

"The very first image that popped into my head was of a young woman in front of a fire, screaming," says Mysius, who wrote the screenplay with her partner and cinematographer, Paul Guilhaume. "I just had this image in my head. But then I also wanted to tell this story of a young girl which was quite burlesque and odd: a young girl with a specific gift for scent and smell. I wanted to merge these two stories, and that's what created the foundations of the script."

When the genre-bending Five Devils premiered at the Directors' Fortnight section of Cannes last year, critics were quick to compare it to the similarly ambitious Titane, Julia Ducournau's Palme d'Or winner. If Ducornau's work sits adjacent to vampires (Raw) and, in Titane, the fast and furious, Mysius's new film is a very French rendition of a superhero movie, replete with sex and Alpine tableaux.

"Initially I did use some of the codes of the genre, the superhero genre – so, in the way that she discovers her gifts and the pleasure she experiences as she uses those gifts for the first time – but then I didn't want to stick with that formula," says the writer-director. "I wanted...

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